What is Legato technique?
Legato technique is the most important technique we learn in piano, yet I find a lot of students are unsure about it and how to play legato properly.
The frst thing is: what is ‘legato?’ The word legato in Italian literally means ‘tied together.’ When I explain legato technique to students, I start with ‘play smoothly!’
Going on from this, it is about understanding that to make the notes sound smooth we must connect them all together by how we play.
Useful Exercises for Legato
The Hanon exercises are brilliant for showing how legato technique works. The first few exercises show pictures of how the hand and fingers look while playing a slur or curved legato line over the notes. I find the pictures can be really useful to show students how we drop the hand slightly at the beginning of the legato then roll up and release at the end of the legato mark.
Another good tip is to demonstrate how a non-legato note would sound. Play it detached and then play a group of detached notes to show the opposite of the connected legato sound.
How I teach Legato technique
Playing on the keyboard, I show students how I push one note into the other in slow motion to create the connected sound. I get students to watch how the piano key goes all the way down, then comes slowly back up as I play into the next key. The weight of the keys is important to note too, rather than pushing into the key, let the key push you back up.
It is so important to understand legato technique from beginners to advanced players and it is also surprising how many students are unsure of it or have never been shown it properly before!
Coming in as a beginner, from day one the hand shape and how we use our fingers is at the core of what we learn. Beginners need to see the hand in a curved position like a little bridge. Telling the little ones there is a mouse under this imaginary bridge can help wonders to keep the hand shape!
Legato technique leads on from this and can be introduced very early.
As a more advanced player as I neared Grade 8 many years ago, I had to revisit the Hanon and Czerny exercises and re-learn the importance of drop-roll legato technique all over again as it was not impressed on me as much when I was starting out as a learner.
Legato playing is essential whether you play for fun, as a hobby or for exams. You get so much more beautiful sounds and phrases out of the piano with good legato playing. Repetition and good example are the way to teach this technique. I am always shocked when students have barely heard of it though it is never too late to learn!